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An Account of His Majesty’s De Meuron Regiment Chapter 9: Canada 1813-1816

An Account of His Majesty’s De Meuron Regiment Chapter 9: Canada 1813-1816

An Account of His Majesty’s De Meuron Regiment 1795-1816

Chapter 9: Canada 1813-1816

 

De Meuron Regiment Uniform 1812, Service D’Angleterre 1805-1816 (courtesy Musee d’Histoire Neuchatel)

 

On the 4th May 1813, the anniversary of the storming of Seringapatam, the De Meuron Regiment was complimented by General Hildebrand Oakes, for their steady conduct and discipline. [1] The following day, the regiment, comprising of 1081 officers and men and 22 drums, embarked onto three ships, the Regulus, Melpomene and Dover for North America, where the British were engaged in a war with the United States.

Lieutenant Alain Bosquet, De Meuron Regiment, left an account of the regiment’s journey;[2]

Leaving Gibraltar on 4th June at four in the morning, the regiment crossed the ocean on the last episode of its story. We are going to reinforce the British army in Canada, ‘ces quelques arpents de neige’ [3] to protect British possessions from the pushy American. We crossed under the protection of English frigates, the Dover led the way and the Regulus, heavier, had trouble following and in the heavy mist the Melpomene touched bottom in the vicinity of Newfoundland, but departed the following day, June 25, by high tide.

After a short stay of four days in July at Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, the convoy arrived on August 5th in Quebec, at the mouth of the Saint Lawrence Estuary; on a rocky headland that dominates the river, where the city put on its majestic allure as the old capital of Canada.[4]

The Anglo-American War resulted from long standing disputes that had remained unresolved since the end of the American Revolutionary War of 1783; based upon perceived challenges to Europeans trying to settle in America, yet suffering from aggressive incursions by native North American Indians supplied with British arms and a British naval blockade, arising from the Napoleonic War in Europe.

The disputes were occurring across the Great Lakes and Canadian frontiers, where the Americans felt they were hindered from further expansion on their frontier with Canada and the Canadians anxious about the potential loss of their existing limited independence under British rule. Simultaneously there was growing American political pressure on the USA President, James Madison from war hawks, to act over a number of relatively minor incidents at sea between British and American naval vessels. The Americans launched an invasion of Canada on 12th July 1812.

Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost, Governor of British North America and Commander-in-Chief of military forces, had been appointed in 1811 and upon the outbreak of war in 1812, commanded the three military regions of Upper Canada, around Lake Ontario, Central and Lower Canada in the Province of Quebec. His three main sources of defence were 5,600 regular soldiers around Quebec, 1,200 of whom garrisoned forts, some eleven native Indian tribes and theoretically 12,000 militiamen described as of ‘dubious reliability’.[5]

Sir George Prevost (Anne Brown Digital Repository & Collection)

 

At the time, supremacy over the lakes and rivers, the main lines of communication, would be crucial to winning the war. This whole area had for years been contentious ground for Canada, battling against enemies coming from the south, first of all native Iroquois, the English, during the Seven Years War, the Americans during the War of Independence, and the Americans again in 1812.

The war spluttered along into 1813, with a victory for the British when the Americans having gained no advantage, retreated, but they were to invade Canada again in Spring 1814, hoping to ‘winter in Montreal’.[6]

The city of Quebec was well fortified, but the Canadians also needed  to protect Montreal, the commercial capital. The security of Montreal depended on the maintenance of an impenetrable line between Chambly and La Prairie, on the Saint Lawrence and critically, of being able to of dispose of the American fleet on Lake Champlain.

After disembarking on the 5th of August 1813, the De Meuron Regiment, was posted to the Army of Upper Canada, and placed in the left column under General Brisbane.[7] The regimental headquarters and main depot were at Fort Chambly and initially the regiment was to defend the valley of the Richelieu River, which flows from Lake Champlain into the Saint Lawrence River and the line of numerous forts, built by the Canadians, along its course. Fort William Henry was at the mouth on the Saint Lawrence, as well as Forts Chambly, Saint Jean and Ile-au-Noix (Fort Lennox), built on an island in the middle of the river.

The De Meuron Regiment replaced the Canadian Fencibles, based at Chambly, south of Montreal,[8] and were brigaded with the French speaking Canadian Voltigeurs or light infantry. Here the regiment managed to recruit a number of other Swiss soldiers who had already fought under British command in the Royal American Regiment.

The American forces had already made two attempts to break through the defences at Lacolle, 25 miles north of Plattsburg, on the Canada-American border and where on the first occasion the American troops had declined to march further and turned back. The second attempt, in October of 1813, had been made against a vastly outnumbered Canadian Militia, supported by only two companies of British regular troops.

 

Map of Plattsburg (Public Domain)

 

Canadian Embodied Militia (Anne Brown Digital Repository & Collection)

 

In spite of their superiority in numbers, the American invaders were pushed back from Lacolle, Fort Ile-au-Noix, and Chateauguay, on the 26th October 1813. Described as a skirmish, others describe it as a battle, which brought unfortunate repercussions for the De Meuron Regiment. Some 500 Canadian militia, under their commander Charles De Salaberry, were holding a defensive position, including blockhouses close to the River Chateauguay. They were supported by a force of 1,000 Canadian Voltigeurs, Select Militiamen, Sedentary Militia and Indians under Lieutenant George Macdonnell. The American forces attacked in large numbers but the Canadians, under De Salaberry, held the line against the American troops, who retreated having suffered 50 casualties. Sir George Prevost and Major General Louis de Watteville arrived at the scene of the clash and later submitted reports which apparently upset the local commander De Salaberry, as it prevented him from submitting his own report and claiming the victory.[9] The Canadians suffered 21 casualties but it is suggested that bad feelings arose as the Canadians had been exposed to jeopardy, whilst the two British commanders had ‘1500, mainly Swiss troops’ to assist, but had chosen not to commit them. One author alleges that the phrase ‘Les Maudit Suisse’, (The Cursed Swiss) became a term of abuse during the remainder of the war.[10]

Colonel Sidney Beckwith, inspected the De Meuron Regiment on 30th October 1813, and reported to Sir George Prevost;

The Right wing of this regiment, it is my duty to report to your excellency, made a most respectable appearance. The men are healthy, effective and fit for service. The arms and appointments in excellent order. Their winter clothing good and compleat. (sic) Their style of marching order good-their packs and blankets well put on. A very trifling deficiency of canteens, the only objection that could be reasonably stated and I am persuaded any General Officer inspecting those companies would not have hesitated to pronounce them fit to take the field. Their barracks were in good order and inspected ten minutes after the men had turned out of them.

Records show that possibly 19 men were recruited into the regiment during 1806-1809, one of whom Jacob Contal, was born in June 1783 and joined the French army on the 2nd of November 1802, as a volunteer. He was a sergeant in the 9th Light Infantry Regiment when captured at Bailén on the 19th June 1808.

A Jean Baptiste Bernadin, had probably been conscripted into the French army in 1808, and transferred to the 33rd Light Infantry Regiment. This regiment fought in the Peninsular War and after the defeat at the Battle of Bailén, in July 1808, Jean Baptiste Bernadin was among almost 18,000 soldiers taken prisoner. The prisoners were held in prison hulks, decommissioned ships anchored in the harbour at Cadiz. After nine months in the prison hulk, Jean Baptiste Bernadin accepted an opportunity to join HM’s De Meuron Regiment where he  was sent first to Sicily, then to Canada in 1814, and was wounded at the battle of Plattsburg.[11]

Jean Pierre Meunier, a French soldier born in Lorraine had been conscripted into Napoleon’s army around 1806. It is likely that Meunier aged 19 years was recruited into the De Meuron Regiment after French prisoners of war from Bailén arrived at Cadiz in 1809.[12] Once in Malta, he is listed as ‘Meunier Pierre J’, recruited on the 22nd April and paid four guineas signing-on bounty. In the pay list for the quarter 25th March to 24th June 1809, John Pierre Meunier is listed as a private in the 10th company De Meuron Regiment, though paid from 1st May to 24th June when his entry records him as a Drummer.[13]

Drummer Jean Pierre Meunier went absent without leave after just three weeks in Canada. On the muster roll for 24th September 1813, it is noted that he ‘deserted 27th August returned 3rd September’.[14] Although his was the only desertion from the regiment in August, there were a further nine in September. As a drummer, he was paid at a regular rate of £2/19/5 for each three-month period,[15] and although he was not paid during his absence, and placed on charge when he returned, the meticulous paymaster credited him £2/15/6½p for the 86 days of the quarter he was present. Ten days later, on 13th September, he was court-martialled at the regiment’s headquarters in Chambly, and sentenced to life imprisonment. On the 14th of September, Jean Pierre Meunier, Drummer in De Meuron’s Regiment, had been arraigned before Lieut. Col. H. De Meuron Bayard for deserting from the Regiment De Meuron on the 27th day of August until the 3rd day of September, when he was brought back a Prisoner. The Court found him guilty and sentenced Meunier to be ‘marked’ on the left side, two inches below the armpit with the letter ‘D’ half an inch long; and to be transported for life, (transporte´ pour la vie)[16] to ‘any part of H.M’s Dominions beyond the seas, as H. R. H. The Prince Regent in the Name and on Behalf of His Majesty may be graciously pleased to direct’. [17]

Being marked with a D for deserter was not unusual in the British Army. The mark was not made by a hot branding iron, but by a tattoo, a brass instrument whose adjustable points were pushed through the skin by a spring-powered mechanism and the initial ‘D’ for Deserter was tattooed upon the face or armpit of the soldier and then rubbed with gunpowder to introduce a blue tinge. The body marks were commonly called ‘gunpowder spots’ from the 17th century and the practice of marking deserters eventually abandoned in 1879. Apart from the disgrace the punishment might have induced, it was intended to deter serial deserters leaving their regiment and presenting themselves to a different regiment to obtain the signing-on bonus.[18]

At the same courts martial three other members of the regiment were found guilty of deserting with the intention of going to the Enemy, and for resisting the party sent to capture them. They were sentenced to death by hanging.

All verdicts from courts martial had to be confirmed by the Army’s Headquarters at Horse Guards, London.

To, Lieutenant General Sir George Prevost, Officer Commanding British North America.

Having received the directions of the Prince Regent for carrying into Execution, the Sentence of a General Court Martial, held at Chambly, in the district of Montreal, on the 13th September 1813, (of which you had approved) whereby Jean Pierre Meunier, Drummer in De Meuron’s Regiment was adjudged to be transported as a Felon for Life; I am to acquaint you, that his Royal Highness, was pleased, in the Name and on the Behalf of His Majesty, to Command that the Prisoner should be Transported accordingly to New South Wales. You will therefore take the proper steps for the Conveyance of Jean Pierre Meunier to this Country.

I am Sir

Yours,
Frederick
Commander in Chief

Horse Guards,

26th February 1814 [19]

Jean Pierre Meunier was sent back to England, where he was placed on board the prison hulk Dido on 21st September 1814, more than a year after his court martial. Three days later he was ‘disposed of’ to New South Wales.[20] He sailed on the Indefatigable, via Rio de Janeiro and arrived in Sydney on 25th April 1815. Of the 200 male convicts loaded, 198 survived the journey.[21] The ‘Sydney Gazette’ reported that the prisoners landed in a healthy condition and were of ‘particularly clean appearance’.[22] Jean Pierre Meunier appears on 29th April 1815 as a ‘Pearce Manier’ on a list of convicts, disembarked from Indefatigable and sent on to Tasmania.[23]

The pace of desertions from the ranks increased after the regiment arrived in Canada, and in early 1814, the future of Swiss regiments was in question and in April 1814, correspondence between Lord Henry Bathurst, Secretary of State for War and Lieutenant General William Bentinck, commanding at Sicily, shows that proposals were being laid for the De Meuron Regiment to be returned to Dutch service and similarly for other mercenary regiments. As the De Meuron and Watteville Regiments were then on active service the proposals were dropped.[24]

The ‘Table of Events of the Companies of the Swiss Regiment De Meuron’ is a record of all recruits into the regiment and taken into use between 14th October 1795 (transfer to the Crown) to 24th September 1816, (disbandment). Part I shows names, rank, age, height, place of birth and brief details of service, promotion, wounds, dismissal, desertion and deaths from October 1784 to November 1807. The record shows that the desertions for this period was 50.[25]

By comparison ‘Table of Events of the Companies of the Swiss Regiment De Meuron part II’, from August 1807 to March 1816, shows there were 334 incidents or acts of ‘deserte’ (desertion) recorded with multiple single entries and as many as twelve desertions out of twenty two entries on a single page.[26] Such desertions occurring with ‘a lamentable frequency[27] and a return for September 1814 showed that 72 men had deserted from the De Meuron Regiment.[28]

 

 De Meuron Regiment Pay & Muster report taken at Chambly for 29 May 1814:[29]

1-Major General, George Townsend Walker (Colonel-in-Chief)

1- Lieutenant-Colonel, Francois-Henry de Meuron-Bayard
2- Majors, T. Fane and C. E May.
10-Captains
18-Lieutenants
6-Ensigns
1-Pay-Master
1-Quartermaster
1-Surgeon
64-Sergeants
59-Corporals
21-Drummers[30]
852-Privates
92-Wives and children

During the winter of 1813 -14, the De Meuron Regiment left a small garrison at Chambly and returned briefly to Montreal, where on 23rd December 1813, seven regimental musicians, played at the church of St Mary. This is possibly indicative as it thought that many of the Swiss and other European soldiers had fallen in love with Canada, feeling at home in a country larger than their own but with many similarities. It is not determined what exactly had prompted the desertions, whether war fatigue, or the prospect of a new life in Canada where some deserters had already joined settlers elsewhere in Canada.[31] It must also be significant that the pace of desertions increased as it did after the regiment’s recruitment of prisoners of war and deserters from Napoleon’s army towards the end of the war in the Spanish peninsula.

When the American force under General George Izard, moved west from Lake Champlain, in 1814, he indicated that Plattsburg would be exposed to a British attack. As Izard had predicted an attack, Prevost managed to raise two army columns, whose objective would be to surround Plattsburg and in a combined operation with the Royal Navy, simultaneously attack the American land base in the Plattsburg Citadel and their fleet on Lake Champlain.

The right column was commanded by Major Generals Manley Power and Francis de Rottenburg and the left column commanded by Brigadier General Thomas Brisbane.

Prevost moved south and established his headquarters at a farmhouse northeast of the Plattsburg, in what is now the State of New York and 60 miles south of Montreal.

Information was received from an American deserter on 15th January about the enemy in an area known as ‘four corners’ south east of Chateauguay and some 13 miles from Plattsburg. A response was devised for a British offensive against the ‘four corners’ dated 19th January 1814, and sent to the Adjutant General Colonel Edward Baines. The planned offensive was to be commanded by Major General Louis De Watteville, and involved 150 men of De Meuron’s Regiment under Major E. Charles May, companies of 49th Regiment, Canadian Voltigeurs and Fencibles, a Rocket troop, 40 Dragoons, companies of volunteers and the single year conscripts, known as ‘Selected Embodied Militia’.[32] In the event the attack did not take place after concerns were expressed about its feasibility and by March the Americans had withdrawn into Plattsburg.[33]                   

In retaliation for the previous American attack outside Quebec, British troops entered Washington, on 24th August 1814 and burned the Presidential Mansion (later known as the White House) and in September the De Meuron Regiment joined the offensive on Plattsburg, between the River St Lawrence and on Lake Champlain. The British attack was formed of three brigades organized into one division under the overall command of Major General Baron Francis De Rottenburg, who had not commanded more than a light infantry brigade in the past.

Major General Frederick Robinson’s 1st Brigade, comprising of HM’s 3rd /27th Regiment, the 39th, 76th, and 88th regiments, totalling 2,495 troops.

Major General Brisbane’s 2nd Brigade, comprising HM’s 2nd/8th, 13th, 49th regiments, De Meuron Regiment, Canadian Voltigeurs and Canadian Chasseurs, totalling 3,785 troops alongside militiamen.

Major General Power’s 3rd Brigade, HM’s 3rd, 5th, 1st/27th, and 58th regiments, totalling, 3,226 troops. Each brigade was supported by artillery of five 6-pounders, two 24 pounders, one 5.5 Howitzer, 536 artillerymen and 309 officers and men of 19th Light Dragoons.

Major General James Kempt commanded a Veterans Brigade, held as an army reserve.

The three brigades were formed into two columns, the right column was the first to reach Plattsburg, the left column slightly to the rear with the De Meuron Regiment. Five battalion companies under Major William Wauchope, had already participated in an attack by superior numbers of British-Canadian troops, against American troops under General Alexander Macomb. [34]

By early September the Anglo-Canadian twin columns had almost encircled Plattsburg, whilst the Americans used the Saranac bridge, which connected the two parts of the town, to retire on their Plattsburg Citadel, in reality three blockhouses and three small forts named ‘Moreau, Scott and Brown’ situated on a peninsula between Lake Champlain and the Saranac River. Two American officers Lieutenant Colonel Appling and Major Wool, just managed to avoid capture by the De Meuron Regiment, as they tore up the planking on the Saranac Bridge and fired upon by the invading British. The Swiss apparently, ‘boasted that they had routed all the Americans from the town by dark’.[35]

Despite what appeared to be a commanding position, Major General Frederick Robinson was apprehensive about Prevost’s strategy and tactics.[36]

It appears to me that the army moved against Plattsburg without any regularly digested plan by Sir George Prevost. There were neither Guides, Spies or Plans.[37]

Prevost’s idea was to launch a naval attack on the American fleet in Lake Champlain to prevent them firing on the British army, which would then cross the Saranac and attack the American held Citadel. The American fleet, commanded by Captain Thomas Macdonough, comprised of USS Saratoga, USS Eagle, USS Ticonderoga, a schooner, three sloops and ten gunboats the smallest, of which, the Preble, possessed only 11 guns. This was the opposition that faced the Royal Navy vessels, comprising of a newly launched 36 gun twin sail Brig, HMS Confiance, HMS Linnet, a 16 gun Brig, the sloops Chubb and Finch, captured from the Americans and renamed, all supported by twelve gunboats.[38]

Lieutenant Frederic Graffenried, HM De Meuron wrote;

This is the first occasion that I have been under fire, in passing along the shore of the bay, we received grapeshot from the fleet and lost some men. Arriving on the outskirts of Plattsburg, we established ourselves; the enemy were in retreat, the inhabitants had taken flight on our approach. They have left behind provisions and homes where the tables were set for dinner. I discovered some excellent cigars, and happily helped myself. The rest of the army camped some distance to the rear of the forest, to shelter from the fort and the fleet’s cannon. We continued to exchange fire with our counterparts till next day. They took no regard of the properties and houses, riddling them with ball and grapeshot, causing us much distress. One gunboat we damaged without destroying it. The Colonel sent me as a messenger to the Lt.-General, by horse, to request a cannon to fire upon the gunboat.[39]

Prevost’s intention was for Major General Brisbane’s force to create a diversion at the site of the damaged bridge over the Saranac on 11th September, supported by artillery fire from British siege batteries whilst Major General Robinson would lead a large force of 3,495 troops across a ford three miles further up the Saranac River and assault the flank and rear of the citadel. Robinson’s force having marched a mile and a half through woodland decided they were on the wrong path and retraced their steps. His journal states:

Having marched a mile and a half the road branched off into a number of cart roads into a thick wood, and the officers of the Quartermaster General’s Department were divided in opinion whether we were on the right road or not. Major Thorn, Assistant Quartermaster General to my brigade came to me and assured me we were wrong and that he would undertake to conduct us to Pikes Ford without fear of any further mistake.[40]

As they marched back, three cheers were heard coming from the Americans in the Plattsburg citadel, prompting Robinson to send Major Cochrane forward to discover the cause. The news was not what they were expecting.

Although his ground troops were prepared for the combined attack, Prevost, having ordered the Royal Navy to attack the American fleet in the harbour, became aware there was a significant problem. Without a north wind, the Royal Navy was unable to enter the harbour swiftly and deploy its guns to best effect. Finally, the British fleet in attempting to gain entrance to the natural harbour, suffered an early casualty, the Royal Navy commander, Downie, was killed in the first few minutes of naval gunfire exchanges. The British vessels attempting to manoeuvre through the narrow entrance of Cumberland Head, were unable to deploy their guns until they were clear and into the harbour. The American fleet had moored in a half-moon, with their guns focused on the narrow entrance. The Royal Navy struggled to enter the harbour and after exchanges of fire, the American cannonades forced the Confiance and Linnet to lower their colours and the fleet to retire with casualties of 57 killed and 72 injured.

Major-General Robinson received a message, written on Prevost’s notepaper by the Adjutant General, Edward Baines;

I am directed to inform you that HMS Confiance and the Brig having struck their colours in consequence of the Frigate grounding it will no longer be prudent to persevere in the service committed to your charge and it is therefore the orders of the Commander of the forces that you immediately return with the troops under your command. [41]

Lieutenant de Goumoens wrote:

Sunday 11th September arrived and the English fleet arrived to attack the American fleet, who form a half moon line and wait… After two hours of combat, the English fleet goes back, is scattered and lowers their colours. This action occurred in front of the eyes of the Regiment De Meuron that was supposed to make the frontal assault depending on the outcome of the naval battle. General Prevost has committed a grave error, failing to give the order early to the regiment to attack. It would have been possible for the Swiss to take possession of the Citadel, stop the American cannon and prevent the Royal Navy’s embarrassment…[42]

The regiment came under gun fire from the American naval guns, none which hit anyone, but two shots from the fort of Platzborg, ricocheted into the column without hitting any personnel; then all the regiment without orders moved into the forest to a point near to the village where marksmen were hidden under cover.[43]

Charles de Goumoens joined the regiment as an Ensign in 1809, promoted Lieutenant in 1811, after disbandment he remained on half pay until 1860.

Following their defeat of the Royal Navy, the American guns in the citadel, were able to concentrate on that part of Plattsburg held by the De Meuron Regiment, who suffered four days of bombardment, the majority of which was born by the flank companies.

Lieutenant Charles de Goumoens;

Plattsburg, is divided in two parts by a brook; one wooden bridge connects these two parts; the regiment located in the part of the village with the bridge of wood but it has been destroyed, we have to cross the obstacle to get to the other part of the village that contains the citadel. We have lost 18 men; we guarded this position for 6 days while the Americans fired on house after house and when we left, all this part of the village was burnt.

The Commander-in-Chief, General Sir George Prevost, decided that the De Meuron Regiment could not be supplied from the lake and in the meantime their stronghold, a local church, was being slowly demolished by gunfire, finally forcing the regiment to evacuate the position.

Prevost’s decision not to attack the citadel, and the Royal Navy’s lack of success entering the bay on Lake Champlain to destroy the enemy ships, proved fatal for the whole operation. Finally, but too late Prevost did order an unsuccessful attempt to break through the defences of the American citadel, but the naval defeat and failure to control Lake Champlain meant the American forces could concentrate their fire on the De Meuron Regiment in the lower half of Plattsburg.

In a report to the US Minister of the War, the American Brigadier General Alexander Macomb, talked of the De Meuron ‘light infantry’ as a source of much difficulty, always searching to take possession of the bridge. It is suggested that in desperation, Macomb had ordered red hot shot to be fired to set alight to the houses, although this is refuted elsewhere.[44] The Americans ‘had dodged a catastrophe because caution had frozen Prevost’.[45]

The Governor General and Commander-in-Chief, George Prevost, whose sobriquet ‘The Defender of Canada’ became badly tarnished, had abandoned the attack on Plattsburg, suffering considerable criticism for what some described as a ‘craven decision’.[46]

One author suggests that an intercepted letter to the effect that ‘20,000 men were marching against him’ from Washington County, New York, prompted Prevost to order what became a costly retreat on the nights of the 11th-12th September.[47] If it existed, the letter was probably a fake he was fully intended to see, as the Americans had used such an artifice earlier in the war. However, a second author describes the ruse as a ‘noble effort’ but states there is no evidence to suggest ‘it reached anyone of importance in the British command’.[48]

On the 12th and 13th, the British withdrew their artillery from Plattsburg and without counter battery fire, the De Meuron Regiment was at the mercy of the American gunners in the citadel, though they held out for several days without support against the continuing bombardment and sustained 18 casualties. The majority of the Anglo-Canadian Army had withdrawn, abandoning large quantities of munitions, supplies and suffered casualties totalling 100 killed and over 100 wounded. On the night of the 13th-14th, the last British unit, HM’s De Meuron Regiment, was the sole British military presence in Plattsburg.

Lieutenant Charles de Goumoens;

During the nights of 13th and 14th the army withdrew and our Regiment covered the retreat.

The De Meuron Regiment’s Light Company under Captain Frederick J. F. Matthey, brother of the Lieutenant killed at Seringapatam, had been left to defend their position in the town and formed the rear-guard to be the last unit of the British force to leave Plattsburg.

The majority of the army, dispirited at the imploding campaign, and drenched by heavy rain, marched back on a muddy road that a few days previously they had marched into Plattsburg. The American fleet, unimpeded by the Royal Navy, continued to pound the now retreating British and Canadians troops, during which the De Meuron Regiment lost a further five men.

Once beyond the range of American artillery fire, the exhausted soldiers rested, and it is suggested that when General Prevost and his general staff passed by, no one stood to salute and some of the Canadians reportedly jeered, except the De Meuron Regiment who stood to attention. The Regiment produced their own second battle honour of sorts, now kept in the museum at Neuchatel, recording their service during the campaign. Engraved upon a banner standard, similar to the one from 1799 is the inscription:

7-14 au Septembre 1814, a PLATZBOURG, courrant la retraite de L’ARMEE ANGLAISE’.[49]

The British naval defeat and army retreat stopped any further British advance in the direction of New York. Prevost never resumed to the offensive and was recalled to London on 3rd March 1815, by Lord Bathurst, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, to explain his actions at Plattsburg. He responded to his recall in bitter terms, chiefly about, ‘the mortification you have judged proper to inflict‘.[50]

Sir George Prevost 1767-1816, had been commissioned into HM’s 60th Regiment aged 11 years and thereafter promoted by purchase to, Captain 1784, Major 1790, Lieut., Col. 1794, followed by various appointments until 1811, when he was appointed Governor of British North America. After his recall and on publication of a critical report, he requested a Courts Martial, but died before it convened in January 1816; ‘Perhaps his character, abilities, and experience did not so well equip him to be a successful commander of field operations, but of having, sound administrative and political ability’.[51]

Plattsburg was the last major battle of the eastern campaign and was the one important engagement for the De Meuron Regiment in the war of 1812-1815, the year which also spelt the beginning of the end for the regiment. The Anglo-American War 1812-15 had cost the British £10 million in addition to casualties and other losses but brought about two positive consequences, the right of Canadians not to be Americans and the cementing of the border between the two countries of North America.

On 12 May 1815, the De Meuron Regiment was stationed at Burtonville, 32 miles north of Plattsburg, and where General Campbell had reported the regiment, ‘to be in a high state of efficiency‘, the regimental strength reported to be:

One colonel, two lieutenant colonels, two majors, ten captains, eighteen lieutenants, six ensigns, an adjutant, a paymaster, a surgeon an assistant surgeon, sixty-four sergeants, thirty corporals, twenty-one drummers, and 852 men.

The nationalities of the regiment remained diverse: 313 Swiss, 256 German, 120 Italian, 23 Spaniard, three Portuguese, seven Russian, six Polish, two English and seven other individual nationalities. The numbers and age of the soldiers:  400 were aged thirty years, 203 aged twenty years, 264 aged twenty-five years, four were fifty years old and two fifty-five years old. Ninety-two women, sixteen girls, and 24 boys, aged over ten and two under ten.

Twenty-eight of the officers were Swiss, five German, and eleven English. The oldest officers were, Captain F. L. Bourgeios, aged 40 years, with eleven years’ service, who entered as an Ensign in 1803, Lieut. Colonel de Meuron-Bayard, aged 40 years with 19 years’ service, and Captain Nicholas Fuchs, aged 36 years with 20 years’ service having previously served in De Rolls Regiment. On disbandment he retired on half pay until 1831. The youngest officers, Lieut., Charles Cesar de Meuron, 19 years old had entered the regiment in 1812, promoted Lieutenant in 1814, he continued to receive a half pay  from 1816 until 1854, whilst Roland Nicolas Auguste de Loriel was recorded aged 15 years with two years’ service.[52]

Soldiers from Eastern Europe were found periodically in mercenary regiments such as the De Meuron and De Watteville regiments in British service, as emigres attempting to avoid service in Napoleon’s armies or as prisoners of war captured by the British. These soldiers from Eastern Europe, who did not regard themselves as mercenaries and ‘imputing to them the status of professional soldiers, hired in the service of a power which offers such pay, is the most unjust classification on the part of historians not adequately informed as to the composition of the De Meuron and De Watteville regiments‘.[53]

Despite the positive comments of General Campbell in 1815, the De Meuron Regiment had already commenced the decline from which it was never to recover. The attraction of a new life in Canada, an awareness of the peace preliminaries with America and the service engagement of the regiment shortly to expire, may have given rise to an expectation that the services of the De Meuron Regiment might no longer be required. Other factors too were in play;

…the British paid the Swiss with “Spanish Pillar Dollars that are distinguished from Spanish Dollars by not having pillars stamped on them, and consequently are refused the same value,” the foreignness of the Swiss Regiments was solidified. The British had cynically offloaded worthless paper left over from Spanish Peninsular campaign to pay the multicultural soldiers of the Swiss Regiments, as if it was an acceptable currency on the distant Upper Canadian frontier.

Added to which others in the regiment were clearly unfit for active service;

Lieutenant Casper Brewer in the De Meuron Regiment was deemed unfit for service before going to North America, but he decided to travel in the hopes of recovering. He was never of any use to his regiment, and despite four years of wartime service, Brewer was deemed as totally useless to it (his regiment), on account of ill health, and also in my opinion by want of sufficient zeal and acting for the good of the Regiment. [54]

Gaspard Brewer was a German national and appointed an Ensign on 25th November 1811, promoted to Lieutenant in 1812, he resigned his commission on 28th September 1814 and remained in Canada.

The Army List, updated by hand to June 1815, shows the officers of the De Meuron Regiment as follows:

 

Colonels:
Colonel Sir George Townsend Walker. 24th Oct. 1812. Major General 4th June 1811.

Lieutenant Colonel Meuron-Bayard. 17th June 1813.

Majors:

C.E. May 17th June 1813.[55]

Thomas Fane. 8th Dec. 1814.

Captains:

Abraham Lewis Peters (Peteres) 19th Feb. 1808.

Frederic Jacques Frederick Matthey 23rd April 1808.

Jean Pierre Sam. Fauche 26th April 1808.

Rodolphe Amedee de May d’ Lisiotoft 28th Feb 1810.[56]

Charles de Rham 1st March 1810.

Nicholas Fuchs 21st March 1811.

P. d’Odet D’orsonnens 14th May 1812.

Francis Louis Bourgeois 17th June 1813.

George, Viscount Forbes 6th Oct. 1814, 1785-1836. (Gazetted as, ‘of De Meurons Regiment, Aide-De-Camp to HRH the Prince Regent.)[57]

Lieutenants:

Jean Pierre Lardy 25th April 1808.

Fred. Henri Perret 20th April 1808.

Ch. J. Zehupnennig 9th March 1809.

Jean Wittmer 5th April 1810

C. Fred. Lardy 27th Sept. 1810.

Fred. De Bibra 25th April 1811.[58]

John Theo de Misani 26th April 1811.

Charles de Gumoens 28th April 1811.

Antoine Fred. de Graffenried 30th April 1811.[59]

A. N. J. D. de Montenach 2nd May 1811.

William Robins 10th May 1812.

Stanislaus Schultz 20th May 1812, Adjutant.

Jean Dombre 20th May 1812.[60]

Gaspard Adolphe Fauche 29th Oct. 1812.

Roland Nicholas Auguste de Loriel 28th Sept. 1814.

Charles Cesar de Meuron 28th Sept. 1814.[61]

A. St. John 29th Sept. 1814.

Louis Simoneau 27th Oct. 1814.

Thomas Trigge May 1815.

Duncan C. Napier May 1815. Transferred from Newfoundland Fencibles.

Charles Brumby (Burnaby) Feb. 1814.[62]

 

Ensigns:

Louis Bauty 10th May 1811.[63]

Jules Caesar Saum 7th Dec. 1814.

Will. Herschel Griebach 8th Dec. 1814.

Edw. Southouse Glen 11th May 1815 vice De Loriel Lieut.,

Charles Fauche 15th June 1815 vice Napier

Gustave Auguste Fauche 31st Nov. vice D’Angelo transferred to Sicilian Regiment.[64]

Joseph Courten 14th Sept. vice Verstrum.

John McNab 20th Sept. vice Ross.

Carl Von Kapherr resigned.

Quartermaster Jacques Louis Vaucher d.27 April 1815
Half Pay Ensign Georges Edgelow from 50th Foot replaced Vaucher.
Chaplain; Vacant

Paymaster; Lawrence Castle

Surgeon; James Shoreland

Asst Surgeons; L. A. Winter and Charles Ducat

 

It was reported that the regiment received seven new recruits in November 1815,[65] and notwithstanding any gloom about their own future or that of the regiment, in January 1816, The Montreal Herald reported on a Regimental Ball held in St. Mary’s, Montreal;

The Bachelor Officers of De Meuron’s Regiment, gave a most, elegant BALL & SUPPER on Tuesday last, at Ste Mary’s, to which the Officers of the garrison and all the principal inhabitants of this city were invited.  Upon the occasion, the rooms were enlarged, brilliantly illuminated, and fitted up in a superior style of taste and elegance; the walls were hung round with grey cloth, and ornamented with mirrors, and branches of Evergreens, fancifully arranged; from the ceiling of the apartments was suspended a drapery of various colours, in festoons, which had a very pleasing and grand effect.  A temporary orchestra was erected, decorated with the Regimental Colours, in which was stationed the Band of the Regiment.  Dancing commenced at 8 o’clock, and was kept up with great spirit until 12 when the company retired to an excellent supper, consisting of every delicacy that taste and liberality could procure. Dancing was resumed after supper, and continued until the dawn of morning peeped forth, when the company begun departing not more gratified with their entertainment, than pleased with the attention they experienced.[66]

 

[1] Oxford Concise Dictionary National Biography, (London & Oxford, OUP 1993) 3 Vols. Hildebrand Oakes 1754-1822. Entered HM’s 33rd regiment 1767, served in America, Corsica and Egypt 1801. Lieut., Col. 1795, Colonel 1798, Maj., Gen 1805, Lieut., Gen 1811. Commanded the Malta Garrison and Chief Commissioner 1810. Lieut., General of Ordnance 1814. Died in office.  Colonel HM’s 52nd Regiment. Baronet 1813.

[2] http://mlloyd.org/gen/macomb/text/hmd2.html

[3] ‘These few acres of snow.’

[4] The Memoir of Lieutenant Alain Bosquet, The Swiss De Meuron Regiment in North America. http://mlloyd.org/gen/macomb/text/hmd2.html, accessed 29/12/20.

[5] A. Taylor The Civil War of 1812 (New York: Vintage at Random House 2011) pp.112-113 & p.150; https://www.whitehousehistory.org/conflict-with-native-american-tribes#

[6] D. Fitz – Enz, The Final Invasion, Plattsburg the War of 1812’s Most Decisive Battle (New York: Cooper Square Press 2001) reprinted University of Nebraska 2009, pp.43-44

[7] J. Heydon, ed. Australian Dictionary of Biography (Melbourne: MUP 1966) Thomas Brisbane 1773-1860. Later Governor of New South Wales and the city named in his honour. He declined the positions of C-in-C in Canada and India.

[8] The Voltigeurs Canadiens, were raised in 1812 for the war against America. Commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry, and were disbanded 1815. https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/services/military-history/history-heritage/official-military-history-lineages/lineages/infantry-regiments/voltigeurs-quebec.html accessed 28/12/20; Cruikshank, The Documentary History of the Campaign on the Niagara Frontier 1813, (Kingston: Adjutant Generals Office, Vol. IV p.307) Reprint Forgotten Books 2017

[9] J. Mackay Hitsman. The Incredible War of 1812. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965. pp.164-166

[10]  G.de Meuron, Le Regiment Meuron, p.209.

[11] J. Corrigan, As Canadian As Can Be. A Napoleonic Soldier, a Genealogical Article. June 2015; TNA WO25/677 does not show the presence of Jean Bernadin in the regimental register between the relevant dates between 1808-1809 but does record a John Bernard 28 years, a Fusilier discharged at Harwich Sept. 1816.

[12] TNA WO.25/677. (entry No.2008 p.93)

[13] TNA WO/677 parts I-II, W.O/12/11963 and fn 368; http://www.genealogyman.com/2016/02/27/de-meuron-enlistment-at-malta-august-19th-1809, accessed 26/3/23

[14] Canada, British Army and Canadian Militia Muster Rolls and Pay Lists, op. cit.

[15] TNA W.0.12/11966, muster books and pay lists, Regiment de Meuron, 1812.

[16] TNA WO 25/677-II p.93 The original full entry is in French.

[17] Public Archives Canada, Record group 8, C series, vol. 165, p.229.

[18] National Army Museum, on display a brass ‘tattooing’ instrument, manufactured by Savigny and Company, London.

[19] Public Archives of Canada, record group 8, C series, British Military and Naval Records, vol. 1167 p.646.

Frederick, Duke of York was the second son of George III and Commander-in-Chief 1795-1809.

[20] TNA, HO9/9 1801-1836 Convict Hulks moored at Portsmouth Register of Prisoners p.27

[21] C. Bateson, The Convict Ships 1787-1868, Library of Australian History, Sydney 2004, pp.340-1

[22] Sydney Gazette and NSW Advertiser 29th April 1815, p.2

[23] Reel 6004,4/3494 p.66. Colonial Secretary Records. www.colsec.records.nsw.gov.au

[24] TNA WO 6/57 and WO 1/658

[25] TNA WO25/677-I, a handwritten register or ‘table’ in two parts of all other ranks and brief summaries in French of their service. pp.17-148.

[26] TNA WO25/677-II from May 1809- pp.24-146

[27] National Archives WO-65-65-4

[28] A. Bamford, ‘Theatre Returns’ and British Army Individual Unit Strengths: 1808-1815 The Infantry Part IV – Veteran, Garrison, and Foreign Units; https://www.napoleon-series.org/ ed., Life in the Red Coat, A Serious Inconvenience 1721-1815 (Warwick: Helion & Co 2020) p.72; D E Graves, The Finest Army Ever to Campaign on American Soil. 10pp. Napoleon Series November 2015, records 74.

[29] G. de Meuron, Le Regiment Meuron, p.210

[30] Drummers and fifers were paid more than privates, who received £2/6/- for each three months – RO W.0.12/11966, muster books and pay lists, Regiment de Meuron, 1812.

[31] C. Atkinson, SAHR, FOREIGN REGIMENTS IN THE BRITISH ARMY, 1793-1802: PART VI, Vol. 22, No. 91 (Autumn, 1944), pp.265-276, considers that the desertion rate for the De Meuron Regiment was far less significant than that of most foreign corps.

[32] https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-qc/chateauguay/culture/histoirehistory/documentation/natcul1a#selected. Govt. of Canada website Accessed 1940hrs 22/12/21

[33] A de Courten, Canada 1812-1814, Fighting Under the British Banner, The Swiss regiments de Watteville and De Meuron, (Canada: Trafford Publishing, 2009) pp.103-125

[34] G. de Meuron, Le Regiment Meuron, William Wauchope joined the regiment by purchase in January 1813 and sold his commission in December 1814 to Thomas Fane, who never joined the regiment. pp.307, 330.

[35] D. Fitz-Enz, The Final Invasion Plattsburg the War of 1812’s Most Decisive Battle (New York: Cooper Square Press 2001) reprinted University of Nebraska 2009. p.122

[36] Frederick Philipse Robinson, 1763-1852. Born in America he fought for the British. Appointed Ensign 1777 in 17th Regt, Lieut., 1779 in 60th Regt. Captain 1794. Major 1794 Colonel 1810. Served in West Indies,

[37] K. Caffrey, The Lion and the Union. The Anglo-American War 1812-1815. (London: Andre Deutsch 1977) p.252

[38] The Royal Navy had assembled some these ships at the Royal Naval yard at Ile aux Noix on the River Richelieu.

[39]  G. de Meuron, Le Regiment Meuron, pp.212

[40] J. Mackay Hitsman. The Incredible War of 1812. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1965. pp.218-225

[41] D. Fitz – Enz, The Final Invasion Plattsburg the War of 1812’s Most Decisive Battle (New York: Cooper Square Press 2001) reprinted University of Nebraska 2009, p.167-168

[42] http://mlloyd.org/gen/macomb/text/hmd2.html 29/01/20;

[43] http://mlloyd.org/gen/Macomb/text/hmd2.htmlaccessed 29/01/20. De Goumoens wrote a work ‘Relation Sur la Prise de Plattsbourg. (A Report on the Capture of Plattsburg).

[44] http://mlloyd.org/gen/Macomb/text/hmd2.htmlaccessed 29/01/20; Fitz–Enz, The Final Invasion Plattsburgthe War of 1812’s Most Decisive Battle (New York: Cooper Square Press 2001) reprinted University of Nebraska 2009, p.241

[45] A Taylor, The Civil War of 1812. (New York: Vintage Books 2010) pp.402-403

[46] Dictionary of Canadian Biography (Toronto: University of Toronto, 2003-2015) Vol. V

[47] P. Berton, Flames Across the Border 1813-1814, (Canada: Penguin Books 1988) p.507

[48] D. Fitz–Enz, The Final Invasion Plattsburg the War of 1812’s Most Decisive Battle (New York: Cooper Square Press 2001) reprinted University of Nebraska 2009, p.103

[49] G. de Meuron, Le Regiment Meuron, pp.214-215

[50] K. Caffrey, The Lion and the Union, the Anglo-American War 1812-1815. (London: Andre Deutsch 1978) pp. 284-5

[51] Dictionary of Canadian Biography (Toronto: University of Toronto, 2003-2015) Vol. V

[52] British Library General Reference 12275.aa.19. Calcutta Review 1903. There are various dates in his record; the National Archive states he was an Ensign in 1811; G. de Meuron, Le Regiment Meuron, p.314, Loriel is recorded as an Ensign 29/10/1812, Lieutenant 25/09/1814; TNA WO 25/756/43, his handwritten records state that, ‘to the best of his recollection he was promoted an Ensign in the illegible of the year 1811 and to Lieutenant in 1814.’ https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C4397506 (visited 30/11/20)

[53] Dr. Victor Turek, Research Fellow MHS and Toronto University, in a lecture on Polish soldiers in British Swiss Regiments, delivered to the Manitoba Historical Society 2016. (http://www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/transactions/3/demeuronpoles.shtml. Accessed 5/1/21

[54] J. Miller, The Men were Sick of the Place, Soldier Illness and Environment in the War of 1812, University of Maine, Digital Commons 2020; Letter from Lieutenant Col., Meuron Bayard to Captain Noah Freer from St. John Nova Scotia, 5 October 1814, Order Book for the Regiment de Meuron, Provincial Archives New Brunswick, p.39;

Gaspard Brewer, “The Memorial of Gaspard Brewer to the Duke of York,”, Regiment de Meuron Order Book, Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, p.97.

[55] National Archive 25/767 Charles Emanuel May, commissioned Ensign 1796, Lieut., 1796, Captain 1807, Major 1813. Placed on half pay 1815.

[56] Also shown as d’Uzistorf.

[57] Edinburgh Gazette 1815, p.200;

G de Meuron, Le Regiment Meuron has a brief entry for Forbes, he entered the regiment as a Captain but never joined the regiment, ‘n’a jamais joint le regiment’ p.308

[58] F. De Bibra, had been appointed to The Froberg Regiment 1806, but did not join. Also appointed to Royal Regiment of Malta 1807, he served in the Calabrian Corps in 1811 and De Meuron Regt., until disbandment.

[59] National Archive, WO25/756, Antoine F. De Graffenried commissioned at 18 years as Ensign March 1811 with rank and pay effective from September 1810, Lieutenant 30th April 1811, placed on half pay 1815. Later became a Prefect at Berne, Switzerland.

[60] National Archive WO 25/756/42 Jean David Dombre, commissioned Ensign 1811, Lieutenant 1812. Half pay on disbandment

[61] National Archive WO 25/756/44 Charles Caesar De Meuron, commissioned as Ensign aged 15 years, Lieutenant 1812. Placed on half pay 1815. In 1827 he was living in Scarborough, Yorks.

[62] Charles Brumby, shown in Army List as Burnaby) Formerly an Ensign of Dillon’s Regiment entered De Meuron as Lieutenant May 1815.

[63] Did not join regiment.

[64] National Archives WO 25/756/35 Guetane D’Angelo, commissioned into De Meuron Regt., aged 31 years as an Ensign, transferred to the Sicilian Regiment 24/08/1815. He had married in Palermo 1807.

[65] A. Nicholls, Wellington’s Switzers, (Huntingdon: K. Trotman Publishing, 2015) pp.207 & 220

[66] L. M. Wilson, This Was Montreal in 1814, 1815, 1816 & 1817 (Montreal: Chateau de Ramezay, 1960) excerpts from The Montreal Herald.